The Next Air Force One: Replacing the President’s First Plane
October 1, 2009 12:00 AM
New, High-Tech Air Force One on Order
Apr 13, 2012 03:00 AM ET // by Eric Niiler
Earlier this month, the U.S. Air Force began seeking contractors that will build the next generation of Air Force Ones, scheduled to take to the skies starting in 2017. There is more at stake than just money: building airplanes that carry heads of state is the ultimate in bragging rights for a manufacturer. Like the present-day presidential aircraft, a pair of modified 747-200s, the next jumbo jets in the presidential fleet will most likely be based on familiar civilian planes such as Boeing’s 747-400 or 747-8 or the Airbus A350 or A380. Despite appearances, Air Force One is nothing like a civilian plane. The request for information put out by the Air Force hints at some of the engineering issues involved. Modifications (many of which are top-secret, like countermeasures against anti-aircraft missiles and communications gear) make it the single most recognizable and talked-about airplane in the world. “This is the Taj Mahal in the air,” says Von Hardesty, author of Air Force One: The Aircraft that Shaped the Modern Presidency. “It embodies the United States of America.”
Although finalized plans for the next Air Force One do not yet exist, the history of these storied planes suggests some ground rules for their future incarnation. Here are some of the features that experts says we will see on the next generation of Air Force Ones. — Mark Anderson
Communications and Defense for the Military’s Signature Aircraft
As the U.S. military’s signature aircraft, Air Force One must have the most advanced and versatile communications and air defense technologies on the planet.
The next Air Force One, Hardesty says, will probably lift a few pages from the designs of the new F-22 Raptor fighter jet. “[The Raptor] can monitor the enemy radar,” he says, and it can “deflect, jam or offset any radar-controlled approaching missile systems.” Hardesty expects these defensive technologies to be onboard the future presidential jet, in addition to the more familiar flares and chaff—the same that were used against fictional missile strikes in the 1997 blockbuster movie Air Force One.
The next Air Force One will also be easily upgradable, says Joe Hagin, former deputy chief of staff to George W. Bush, and regular passenger on Air Force One from 2001 to 2008. “Technology is advancing so rapidly that by the time the new aircraft becomes operational, there will have been several generations of upgrades already incorporated on the platform,” Haggin, now CEO of the Chicago-based Jet Support Services, Inc., wrote via email.
The Air Force relies on thoroughly vetted designs and technologies for its presidential fleet. “The tradition has been to insist on using a design that is already proven in service,” Air Force Times columnist Robert F. Dorr, author of the book Air Force One says. “And that would rule out the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350.”
Tom Enders, chief executive of the Toulouse, France–based Airbus company, made headlines last week when he told British newspaper The Guardian that Airbus was preparing to offer the new A380 superjumbo aircraft as the next Air Force One. However, both Dorr and Hardesty say they think this reputed “offer” by Airbus was more publicity stunt than anything. “I can’t conceive of the U.S. President using the A380,” Dorr told PM via email.
All the Amenities for a Second White House
Air Force One is as self-contained a flying machine as possible, capable of serving as a mobile White House and requiring little from any host airports where it lands. This means that an Air Force One must carry everything the president needs to maintain a rigorous travel schedule. This includes meeting rooms and communications gear that are as secure from eavesdropping as the Oval Office. Engineering the more mundane aspects of presidential schedule is also important. The current Air Force Ones, VC-25A aircraft, contain their own kitchens, retractable stairways and baggage loaders. Air Force One boasts its own minihospital, including a pharmacy, emergency room equipment and a fold-out operating table. The VC-25A also travels with its own fleet of in-air refueling tankers, both for itself and for the cargo planes that carry presidential limousines and Marine One, the presidential helicopter.
Timetable for a Choice: Soon
Whatever the provider, time is of the essence to get the new Air Force One fleet designed, built and up-and-running.
“There is a concern in some quarters within the Air Force that they really need the replacement much sooner [than 2017],” Hagin says. “Spare parts are becoming difficult to obtain, since the few 747-200s still flying today are in freighter service or operating in small overseas airlines.”
In 2005, the Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland ignited controversy in Washington when it beat out U.S. contractor Sikorsky Aircraft to manufacture the next generation of Marine Ones. And, said Hagin, if Airbus puts in the best bid, he thinks Europe should win the Air Force One competition too.
“I believe that like the helicopter decision, the company that offers the highest quality platform will prevail,” he said. “The president of the United States should be traveling on the safest, most advanced, best aircraft on the market, without compromise.”
Even the president’s ride can be hot-rodded. That’s the best way to describe the 23 choppers scheduled to replace the current fleet of Marine One VH-3Ds and VH-60Ns. Outfitted with a kitchen, a bathroom and a White House-worthy high-speed communications suite, the VH-71 is closer in capabilities (and amenities) to Air Force One than to its short-hop predecessors.
Development of the VH-71, which had its first test flight in Yeovil, England, in July, was accelerated following the Sept. 11 attacks, with Lockheed Martin promising five production models by 2009. The remaining choppers, due by 2018, will include even more communications systems and performance boosts.
New Marine One Specs
* Long Range /// With three super-efficient engines, the VH-71s will travel up to 350 miles. Today’s VH-3Ds have a 100-mile range.
* Oval Cabin /// The VH-71 is billed as an “Oval Office in the sky,” with sound- and vibration-reducing systems, missile protection and seating for 14 passengers.
* Lineage /// The chopper that the VH-71 is based on, the AgustaWestland-built EH-101, has been used for search-and-rescue in Canada and troop transport in Bosnia.
VH-71 had its first test flight in Yeovil, England this past July.
– Air Force One is designed to flex the nation’s political and diplomatic muscles.
– The only bigger (but not longer) aircraft is the Airbus A380, made by a European consortium.
– The new model will be able to fly longer on a tank of gas, avoid trouble and allow the president to communicate better.
The Pentagon wants a new, upgraded Air Force One to fly around future presidents, but don’t expect any radical new aerospace technologies.
The new model, however, will be able to fly longer on a tank of gas, avoid trouble and allow the president to communicate better with government, the military and the public.
“When it comes to a mission like this, you never want the president to be an early adapter of new and uncertain technology,” said Richard Aboulafia, president of the Teal Group, an aviation consulting firm based in Fairfax, Va. “Unless there’s a performance improvement, it’s going to be trailing edge rather than cutting edge.”
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Plans for a new Air Force One appeared in the latest version of the Pentagon’s aviation plans, according to Defense News. Officials haven’t said which model they plan to purchase, but it is likely to be an updated version of the current Boeing 747 VC-25.
If military officials stick with a U.S. manufacturer like Boeing, that probably means using Boeing’s latest 747-800 series, which has more powerful and efficient engines, and better aerodynamics. The 747-800 series made its maiden flight in 2010, and is only being used for cargo transport.
The first passenger liners are expected to be delivered by Boeing to several airline firms this year. The current Air Force One — there are actually two aircraft which carry that designation when the president is aboard — have been in service since 1990, and the new ones won’t be ready until 2019 or 2020.
Because of electronics and communications upgrades after 9/11, the aircraft’s power demands are “straining” the current engines, Defense News said.
Newer aircraft have more powerful engines that can operate more gear, according to experts.
“You would want to go with an airplane that can stay aloft for a long time using less fuel than a current airplane and maybe even fly higher,” said Snoori Gudmundsson, assistant professor of aerospace at Embry-Riddle University in Daytona Beach, Fla.
The only bigger (but not longer) aircraft is the Airbus A380, made by the European consortium, EADS. But given Congressional home state politics, it’s likely that the Pentagon would pick an American manufacturer, according to Barry Watts, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, and a former Air Force program analyst.
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Watts says Air Force One is designed to flex the nation’s political and diplomatic muscles, just like the arrival of an aircraft carrier.
“When it lands on your ramp in a foreign country, it projects American power and presence and influence,” Watts said.
Unlike most commercial aircraft, Air Force One can refuel mid-air and its on board electronics can withstand an electromagnetic pulse, according to the White House website. It also has a mobile command center and advanced electronics that allows the president to function in the event of an attack on the U.S.
The president, his staff and the traveling press have 4,000 square feet of space on three levels, including a medical suite that can be used as an operating room.
…no wonder electronics are amazing and new materials are being used…!
…BUT WHAT DOES USA Airforce One really need…?
…A NOT MUCH BIGGER Than a NEW 747, made to stronger specs…!
…WHY RE-INVENT THE “WHEEL”…?
-YOU want a Air Force One to be able to take some damage…!
-YOU want a Air Force One to have a posterior Cargo Ramp of some sort…!
-YOU want to be able to “escape” if needs be from the FLYING MONSTER…!
-YOU WANT TO BE ABLE TO DO MORE THAN “NORMAL” MANEUVERS…!
-YOU WANT extra “pitot tubes” and COMPARTMENTS pressurized to open to the EXTERIOR for backup instruments
-YOU WANT the 777 backup pop-out prop air flow generator!
-YOU WANT MORE THAN 1,000 WATTS ALL BAND RADIO…!
– A TANDEM parachute system for human use…! With SEAL TROOPS or bigger military minimum personnel on-board…!
– A SMALL BOAT and Light Chopper at the Posterior Cargo Ramp…! IF POSSIBLE…!
SURELY YOU WANT TO CONTROL EVERYTHING FROM AIR FORCE ONE, but do you cover the worst case scenarios…???
MY IMAGINATION GOES WILD…! But there are stupid creations believed to be state of the art technology…!
I like the Antonov_An-125 to An-225_Mriya sizes and DESIGNS…! And USA has similar designs for AIR FORCE JETS…!
Man/Hombre look at those specs. of these ANTONOV…!
WHY LIMIT AIR FORCE ONE TO artificial COSTS…???
ANYWAY BOYS AND GIRLS…! WHEN CAPITALISM LIMITED EVERYTHING BY COSTS…! THEY LOST THEIR CAPACITY OF MORE “POWER”…!
NOW…! IF YOUR POWER IS BEYOND ANY OTHER, YOU EVEN CAN STOP WARS…!